Before all the holiday blockbuster and Oscar-bait movies get to a theater near you, I wanted to do a little politicking myself with a self-induced caucus on the best fictional president in film or television.  I decided to conduct my own very unscientific poll with a very biased pool of one person — myself.  I limited the possible candidates to those films or television shows after 1960, and I came up with certain criteria based on what Mr. and Mrs. Joe Schmo would use to help make up their minds.  I graded each on a scale of one to ten with one being bad and ten being excellent on the following criteria: character, intelligence and ability, charisma, family life, trust and honesty, experience, decision-making, political skills, and leadership. I added up the scores from all the categories with the result being what I call their Q rating.  

The group consisted of 16 candidates from 11 films and three television shows.  They must have all been fictional characters (no biopics), and they had to be either the lead or a very major supporting role.  After exhausting study and analysis, here are the results of the best Hollywood presidents, according to me.

The top president is James Marshall from the action blockbuster Air Force One portrayed by Harrison Ford.  His Q rating was 77 out of a possible 90.  Marshall scored high in all categories by showing his ability to not only thwart a group of terrorists threatening to kill his family but by being a president that we’d all want on our side — and women tell me he’s not bad to look at either.  Next is a tie.  First in line is Andrew Shepherd, the widowed head of state played by Michael Douglas, who becomes smitten with Annette Bening’s lobbyist from Rob Riener’s romantic comedy The American President.  Shepherd was able to gain a 72 Q rating by being tops in most categories save for political skill.  Dating a lobbyist trying to persuade your administration to change opinion on key legislation isn’t the smartest of career moves but, again, he’s not bad to look at.  Also gaining a 72 Q rating is a president from another blockbuster — Tom Whitmore (Bill Pullman), the jet-flying, alien-busting president from the action sci-fi film Independence Day.  Whitmore’s only bad marks come in the family life category because he’s too busy saving the world to worry about his wife, though he does give a good pep talk.  We then go back to the 1960s and to Henry Fonda in the film Fail Safe where he’s simply referred to as The President.  Fail Safe is a Cold War thriller directed by Sidney Lumet reflecting all the fears of nuclear annihilation brought upon by the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Fonda’s president is cool, collected, and able to make hard decisions that will affect the entire world.  If he wasn’t willing to let his family die in a nuclear blast just to save the world, he may have gotten more than a 69 rating.  

The highest TV president on the list is Jed Bartlett of The West Wing, played by the politically active Martin Sheen, with a 68 Q rating.  President Bartlett brought intelligence and consciousness to his presidency and a heartfelt desire to lead the American people through challenging times.  If he hadn’t lied about his medical problems, he would have scored a lot higher.  Next, we have another sci-fi president in Tom Beck, the first African-American chief played by the Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.  In the film Deep Impact, Freeman’s president has to play the tough father figure to a world that is certainly going to be hit by a giant comet.  What Beck lacks is charisma, but if push comes to shove, I wouldn’t mind having him in the oval office whenever a large object is heading our way.  We go back to television for our next president, the greenest member on the list and the first female, Mackenzie Allen, played by another Academy Award-winner, Geena Davis.  In Commander In Chief, you have a vice-president who assumes the presidency after her boss dies off.  She has to battle public opinion and a ruthless speaker of the house, played to the hilt by Donald Sutherland.  In the Allen White House, you have a husband who assumes a greater role than most first ladies have before him and three kids all facing the hardships of growing up with a mom who could drop a bomb whenever she pleases.  Allen still has some proving to do, experience to gain, and political moves to master but, given time, she could move up in the polls and raise her 61 rating.  We change networks for our next president, David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) from the first couple seasons of the show 24.  After facing not only a threat on his life and an actual assassination attempt, he had to deal with a back-stabbing evil wife turned ex-wife who would do anything to get her man back.  Being able to help keep America safe and Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) alive is a lot for any president to handle.  I’m sure his advice would be to get rid of a crazy wife before running for president.  Q Rating, 58.  

Finally, one of my favorite presidents isn’t really a president — he just plays one on the movie screen.  In Dave, Kevin Kline plays Dave Kovich, an everyman who happens to look like the president and assumes those duties when the real president falls into a deep coma after a sexual dalliance with an assistant.  Dave’s president wins the hearts of the people, balances the budget, and falls for the real first lady.  The only problem is he’s really just an owner of an employment agency and can’t really be president.  If only it were that easy.  Dave only gets a 58 but deserves more.  Perhaps in a sequel where Dave can move from city council to the presidency of the United States, he’ll be able to move up on the list legitimately.

Here are the rest of the presidents and their ratings.  No time for explanations, but since they’re the worst of the lot, who cares?  Matt Douglas (James Garner) and Russell Kramer (Jack Lemon) from My Fellow Americans, 57 and 54, respectively; John Travolta’s Jack Stanton from Primary Colors, a 49 rating; Mars Attacks’ James Dale gets a 47 as played by Jack Nicholson; a 42 is awarded to Peter Sellers’ Markin Muffly in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove; and the two most vile presidents on the list, each getting a 34 and 42, respectively, are Gene Hackman’s Alan Richmond in Absolute Power and Dan Aykroyd’s William Haney from My Fellow Americans, each putting themselves way ahead of the American people.

The fortunate thing is that all of these films and television shows are first-rate and deserve to be viewed many times over.  I’d also like to hear your opinion on the best Hollywood president.  I’ll tally up your votes in an upcoming column — no hanging chads, please.

Rich Burlingham

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